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Predicted XI: Charlotte FC

With injuries abound, who will start for the Black & Gold on Saturday?

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Columbus Crew returns to action Saturday for the team’s first game since May 28, as the Black & Gold host Major League Soccer expansion side Charlotte FC for the debutante’s first-ever game in the Ohio state capital.

The lengthy June international break came at both a good and a bad time for the Crew. Good, because multiple Columbus players sustained injuries right before the break, with some injuries coming in the last game at Atlanta United. Bad, because the Crew played well at Atlanta, winning the team’s first road match of the 2022 season.

Despite the gap between matches, the Black & Gold will look to ride the momentum gained against the Five Stripes and they should have every opportunity to do just that. Charlotte, a team who has actually exceeded expectations this year, has been very poor on the road this season, earning only one point from seven road matches.

Even with the international break providing additional time between games, the Crew comes into Saturday’s match battered and bruised. Friday’s player availability report listed a season-high nine players, although all are listed as questionable. The report includes Artur (right lower leg), Luis Diaz (right hand), Marlon Hairston (right thigh), Jonathan Mensah (concussion), Kevin Molino (right knee), Will Sands (right knee), Pedro Santos (right thigh), Yaw Yeboah (left ankle), and Lucas Zelarayan (left thigh).

With all of these injuries to consider, here is who Massive Report believes will start for Columbus Saturday:

The starting 11 will be a bit of a mashup between starters, fringe starters and reserves, as it is anticipated that Mensah, Zelarayan, Santos, Artur, Yeboah and Sands will all be unavailable for Saturday’s match.

A glaring omission from the above paragraph is Kevin Molino, as head coach Caleb Porter said in his Friday press conference that the Trinidad and Tobago international is available for selection for the first time since August of 2021. Molino last featured for the Crew on Aug. 21, 2021, against the Seattle Sounders before tearing his ACL in training a few days later. While it is unlikely Molino will feature in the starting 11, he could about 20 minutes of action late in the match off the bench.

With injuries to both the starting and presumptive backup left back, that position is the most fascinating ahead of this weekend’s match. Derrick Etienne Jr. is the best man for the job, as the Haitian has proven he has the ability to play in a fullback position over the last two seasons and has proven capable on the left wing throughout the year.

Earlier this season against the New England Revolution, due to a Hairston late scratch, Etienne was thrust into the right back role and went on to register two assists. While these assists came from the ride side of the pitch, Etienne is comfortable on the left side as well.

A final position of note is at striker. Erik Hurtado will receive the starting nod for the second time this season, with his first start coming last game at Atlanta. Hurtado scored a beautiful goal to end the first half which was the difference-maker in the match. With the disappointing performances from Miguel Berry in recent weeks, expect Porter to ride the hot player and see if Hurtado can continue on a good run of form.